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Doctors aim to increase vaccination rates in local African American community

"Only about 4.9% of all the people who have been vaccinated across Florida are falling to the African American community,” said Dr. Kevin Sneed at USF.

TAMPA, Fla — The continued push to get more vaccines into underserved minority communities has forged a unique partnership between church and state, already putting vaccinations into the arms of at least 1,000 people in Hillsborough County.

"I think that it's important that as African Americans...we continue to try to restore trust in our medical system,” said Rev. Glenn Dames, pastor at Allen Temple AME Church in Tampa.

RELATED: Faith leaders applaud DeSantis' vaccine initiative targeting churches in underserved communities

This week, 600 people mostly from churches in Hillsborough's African American community, received vaccines through a new Hillsborough County-run program. Sunday was the second time the county partnered with places of worship as part of its "Targeted Vaccine Initiative." 

It's a follow-through after Gov. Ron DeSantis said earlier this month the state will target churches to help distribute vaccines in underserved communities.

"I think that it's important that as African Americans...we continue to try to restore trust in our medical system,” Dames said. "I like to say that we're trying to regain the trust that Tuskegee lost.”

Sunday’s effort at greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church brought out members from 11 area churches, including Allen Temple AME.

"African American churches have been a very effective means…However, we're going to have to develop additional means of how we get out into the community,” said Dr. Kevin Sneed, the dean at the University of South Florida’s Taneja College of Pharmacy.

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed at Tampa church as part of pilot program

Over the last year, Sneed made it his mission to close gaps in coverage and overcome vaccine mistrust in the African American community.

"...Only about 4.9% of all the people who have been vaccinated across Florida are falling to the African American community,” he said. This is a concern for Sneed, who says as more people are vaccinated, the viral pressure could end up having even more of a disproportionate impact on communities with low vaccination rates.

“If the African American, or the Latino communities--if we're not vaccinating them at really high numbers, eventually that could prove to be very deleterious and very dangerous for our communities,” he said. "COVID-19 once again has shown the stain of health disparities and health inequities in this country."

Those who got their vaccines at the first church-county clinic earlier this month will come back Sunday for their second dose. The return rate will be a measure of the initiative's effectiveness.

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed at Tampa church as part of pilot program

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